Pall Mall, Hanley
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Pall Mall, Hanley

The Mechanics Institution and public library:

Historically, Mechanics' Institutes were educational establishments formed to provide adult education, particularly in technical subjects, to working men. As such, they were often funded by local industrialists on the grounds that they would ultimately benefit from having more knowledgeable and skilled employees.

The Mechanics' Institutes were used as 'libraries' for the adult working class, and provided them with an alternative pastime to gambling and drinking in pubs.


The origin of this form of 'self-improvement' and education in Hanley is found with "The Pottery Philosophical Society" which was established at the Red Lion Inn, Shelton, in 1820 with a largely middle-class membership it continued to meet, in members' houses, until 1835.


The Mechanics' Institution was founded in 1826 for 'the promotion of useful knowledge among the working classes' at the instigation of Benjamin Vale, then curate of Stoke and later Rector of Longton, and with the support of Josiah Wedgwood and other leading local men. 


Premises containing lecture rooms and classrooms, a library, a laboratory, and a committee room were built in Frederick Street (now Gitana Street) in 18345, and c. 1840 the institution had a library of nearly 1,500 books, 'excluding polemical divinity and party politics'. 


The library in Pall Mall was opened in 1887........ "The town also boasts a splendid public free library, which was opened in April 1887, by the late Earl Granville, K.G. The library contains 8,185 volumes. There are reference and lending departments, a news room and museum, chiefly devoted to objects of local interest. Science classes are also held here, and are well attended by both sexes."


Scriven's 1840 report the the House of Commons recorded:

 "A Mechanics' Institution has existed in the town for 14 years. The number of members has for some years ranged only at from 200 to 300. It possesses an excellent library of upwards of 1,500 volumes, a reading-room, classes for drawing and chemistry, and latterly elementary classes. The drawing class has always been well attended - this art being so useful to those engaged in the manufactures of the neighbourhood. The proportions of the different classes of persons, members of the institution, will be seen in the following table:- "

Year 1839 1840
Manufacturers 35 36
Shopkeepers 33 29
Professional men 7 8
Artists 34 31
Clerks 14 19
Workmen 154 213


277 336





The government school of design, in Pall Mall, was instituted in 1847.

"The Government School of Art, in Pall Mall, which was established as long ago as 1847, has had a most brilliant career, and has turned out pupils who have made their mark, not only in the artistic employment offered in the various factories in the neighbourhood, but in all parts of this country and in the colonies."


The first move towards the establishment of an art school was made by the Mechanics' Institution in 1845, but the idea was taken up in the following year by certain master potters. The Potteries Schools of Design were founded in 1847 under the auspices of the London School of Design and consisted of schools held in the British School building in Pall Mall, Hanley, and in Stoke town hall; the Hanley branch became an independent school in 1860.

The Mechanics' Institution continued to hold its own art classes until at least 1853, to some extent in rivalry with the new schools. The building in Pall Mall was enlarged in 1880 by the addition of a new story, and, under the head masterships of Samuel Cartlidge (18821900) and his successor George Cartlidge, the Hanley School of Art reached a high standard of achievement.

Burslem School of Art
Burslem School of Art

With the amalgamation of the art schools of the various towns after Federation, however, the Hanley school gradually lost ground to its rival at Burslem and was closed in its centenary year, 1947.

The library and school of art are highlighted
The library and school of art are highlighted


"The former British School and Art School in Pall Mall, now part of the city library, has an impressive brick front with neo-Classical stone dressings, retaining its twin doorways flanked by Doric pilasters and its contemporary cast-iron railings and gate-piers. Originally the building consisted of two tall stories, but a third was added in 1880.


The two painted barbotine portraits over the entrance to the eastern extension were executed by George Cartlidge, a ceramic craftsman and a teacher of painting at the Art School from 1897.


The adjoining part of the library to the west was built as the Mechanics' Institution in 185961. Its stone front was designed by Robert Scrivener in the Classical style with a Tuscan order below and an Ionic order above.  The upper story eventually became unsafe and was taken down after the opening of the new museum in Broad Street in 1956." 

From: A History of the County of Stafford: Volume 8 (1963)


The Pottery Subscription Library at Hanley was founded in 1790 by James Straphan, the first bookseller in the Potteries.


About 1840 the library, consisting of some 3,000 volumes, was housed in the shop of Thomas Allbut, who had succeeded Straphan as librarian and treasurer c. 1800; the membership was elective with an entrance fee of 2 guineas and an annual subscription of 1 guinea. The library was still in existence in 1860.


The Shelton Subscription Library was founded in 1814 and was still in existence in 1830, housed in Bethesda Schoolroom.  Between at least 1851 and 1876 there was a subscription newspaper room at the town hall.


The borough council established a free library in 1887, taking a lease of the whole building in Pall Mall belonging to the Mechanics' Institution  except for the reading-room.


In the 1960's the city library is still housed there and since 1958 has also occupied the adjoining building which formerly housed the British School, Hanley, and the Russell Art Gallery.

A boys' library was formed as part of the free library in 1893, mainly at the instigation of the mayor, Edwin Hammersley.





In 1950 the reference library facilities, hitherto dispersed among the constituent libraries, were centralized in the Hanley Library, and in 1958 a separate reference library, known as the Horace Barks Reference Library, was opened in the former Russell Art Gallery adjacent to the main lending library. The latter, in 1954, had been declared unsafe and was accommodated in Piccadilly Chambers while the Pall Mall building was being repaired. In 1956 the move back to its former building took place.


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